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Why Companies are Trying to Build Empathetic Relationships with Customers

November 29, 2019

To get to empathy at scale requires high level of customer focus and vision for the organization

Sponsored by Comcast

Written by Alan Webber, Program Vice President, Customer Experience, IDC

Shifting from Selling Products to Providing Experiences

Traditionally, organizations have focused primarily on the tangible aspects of products and services—building products, designing services, advertising and marketing them, and then waiting for the sales to roll in. That perspective of the customer journey from the era of industrialization is fading into antiquity as customers turn from buying a product or a service, to purchasing experiences.

Customers want an experience that matches their needs and expectations. The result is that organizations that can shift from selling a product to providing an experience are reaping important rewards such as improved customer satisfaction, longer customer relationships, increased revenue, and more.

Beyond Personalization Lies Empathy

How should companies respond to this shift of customers wanting experiences? IDC research shows that many organizations consider building customer understanding and trust to be an integral goal of digital transformation initiatives (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

They need to begin with personalization or customization by providing tailored marketing, products, and experiences that focus on personal preferences and needs. But this is only a steppingstone—and isn't going to be enough.

We are already seeing personalization fatigue among consumers and organizations because of poorly done personalization efforts, mis-targeted suggestions, and overly intrusive recommendations triggering a dismissal of these personalization efforts as just another misdirected marketing scheme resulting in a poor experience. Not what organizations or customers want.

Brands that want to look and grow beyond personalization should focus next on providing empathy at scale. Empathy at scale—and more precisely, cognitive empathy at scale—is the ability to use data, analytics, and intelligence technologies to understand and gain insights into the thoughts, feelings, and needs of a large percentage of the customer population. Companies can then respond appropriately within the context of those thoughts, feelings, and needs. In turn, these insights are used to provide a more tailored and specific experience that is empathetic without being manipulative.

To better understand the movement towards empathy at scale, IDC conducted a research survey where we looked at the customer experience-oriented priorities of the respondents through the lens of the customer journey and the drive towards building an empathetic relationship with the customer. We found that:

  • Customer understanding is the first component of building empathy. It follows then that customer data and analytics, which is the primary source of understanding about the customer, was the top priority among companies building towards empathy (see Figure 1).

  • Building a relationship of trust is the second component of building empathy. Trust builds upon the established understanding, demonstrating that there is value on both sides of the relationship.

  • Following through on the commitment is the third component of building empathy. Organizations that demonstrate a willingness to follow through, to do what the brand promises, establish a level of trust.

Using Empathy at Scale to Build a Relationship

To get to empathy at scale requires a level of customer focus and vision for the organization, to have gathered the necessary data about its customers and analyzed it, and then to align the ability of the organization to meet customer expectations with the appropriate customer interactions across channels. Brands need to move to providing empathy at scale, and need to focus on the following:

  • Build an understanding of the customer. Organizations need to start with internal customer data and intelligence and build an integrated understanding of the customer to include customer journey analysis, voice of the customer, social influence, and more.

  • Use that understanding to build an empathetic relationship. Once a brand has established a foundational relationship, the brand can use that understanding to build a trust-based empathetic relationship where the customer feels a level of value based upon understanding their feelings and meeting their needs.

  • Keep commitments to maintain the empathetic relationship. Building an empathetic relationship is only the starting point. Breaking trust shows a lack of empathy and can quickly destroy a customer relationship. It is important that brands understand the cycle between action, trust, and empathy.

For the full story on how organizations are undergoing a customer experience-driven digital transformation, as both customers and brands adopt new technologies that improve on current experiences as well as provide wholly different experiences, download the IDC white paper, “Empathy at Scale: How Data & Technology Will Fuel More Human Customer Experiences,” sponsored by Comcast Business.

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